Is Healthcare AI The Answer?
To help explain the future of healthcare AI let’s borrow a few lines from Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland:
Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
So it is with healthcare AI. It really just depends on where we want to go with healthcare in the US (and globally for that matter). Much of the current conversation seems to be where we use AI to improve medical care. Hospitals using data from retail clinics, homes, government agencies and more to predict individual healthcare needs. Big Tech companies applying AI to diagnose diseases better than physicians. Insurers managing their risk pool through AI.
A common theme for so many of these healthcare AI scenarios is that AI improves the efficiency of the current system. That improvement is supposedly good for everyone: patients, providers, insurers. And that is also where we get it terribly wrong. If we really want to make the most of healthcare AI investments and promote wellbeing there are two things we must remember:
- No one wants to be a patient but everyone wants to be healthy.
- AI offers only point solutions, not a universal truth
Everyone Wants To Be Healthy
No one wants to be a patient, not even doctors and nurses. The patient experience is painful, frightening, and terribly expensive (in the US anyway). Everyone would much prefer to remain healthy and never see the inside of a hospital. In the US sick care system, however, there is a financial incentive only when there is a diagnosis and treatment. Healthcare AI solutions that do not produce more diagnoses and treatments are not viable in our current sick care system. Like Alice, we must know which way we want to go: more sick care or a new system for health and wellbeing?
Healthcare AI Point Solutions
Artificial Intelligence comes in two basic flavors: 1) General, and 2) Narrow. Again, we must plan and invest knowingly to get to where we want to go.
This is the sexy AI, the stuff we see in science fiction. Computers are so smart that they can address any type of problem decisively and with lightening speed. We use words like “reasoning” or “thinking” when we imagine the power of General AI. As far as our investments and resources go for healthcare AI the General AI option is many years away. We cannot afford to invest in fiction.
That leaves us to consider narrow AI. These are solutions that are focused on a specific task like search, image analysis, or driving a car. Each is a significant undertaking and requires advanced capabilities. These point solutions in healthcare AI are already underway. Unfortunately, many of the solutions are those that focus on more diagnoses and treatments in the current sick care model. This is not where we want to go.
Healthcare AI For Health
We can also imagine a care system where healthcare AI promotes health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (as the World Health Organization defines health). Instead of more diagnoses and treatments, what about healthcare AI that weans patients off medications? Maybe AI that offers an appropriate personalized spiritual thought based on facial expression? What about AI for a positive online social interaction? There are countless applications for real healthcare AI. We only need to decide where we are going.
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